Monday, September 05, 2005

Mission of Mercy: Gore brings storm victims to home state

by Darren Dunlap
of The Daily Times

They were tired, weary and gracious.

Some needed medical care, and others simply wanted a shower. Many were elderly and fragile.

Rob Webb, director of Rural/Metro Ambulance Service in Blount County, said hospital patients and evacuees flown into Knoxville from New Orleans Saturday showed their gratitude as they left the plane.

``I welcomed them to Tennessee, told them they were going to be taken care of in a nice hospital,'' Webb said.

An American Airlines plane arrived at McGhee Tyson Airport at 3:10 p.m. Saturday with about 130 people from New Orleans.

Former Vice President Al Gore was on the plane, helping patients. He did not grant interviews to reporters Saturday.

``My understanding was that he made this happen, that he actually arranged for this aircraft,'' Webb said.

Ninety of the passengers were patients from Mercy Hospital in New Orleans, according to Knox County spokesman Dwight Van de Vate.

A dozen patients were taken to Blount Memorial Hospital. Ten were treated and released. Two were admitted to the hospital. Those not admitted to Blount Memorial Hospital will go to a shelter at Blount Christian Church in Maryville. Three people checked into the shelter on Saturday.

Several patients were diabetic, and some needed dialysis. Many patients had been without medication for ``several days,'' but were ``relatively stable,'' said Dr. Roger Brooksbank, an emergency physician with Team Health at Blount Memorial Hospital.

The remaining 40 passengers were evacuees who needed no ``acute medical care,'' according to Van de Vate. Regardless, all were taken to hospitals in Knoxville, Blount County, Oak Ridge and Jefferson County for evaluation. They were divided among the hospitals to prevent overwhelming them.

There were two children on board who were not ``chaperoned,'' said Van de Vate. The children were taken to East Tennessee Children's Hospital for evaluation. They would likely be placed in foster homes by Tennessee Department of Children's Services. Van de Vate said the shelters are not equipped to take children.

Many of the people not being hospitalized would be taken to a shelter at First Baptist Church in downtown Knoxville, he said.

East Tennessee hospitals and emergency services agencies learned Friday night the plane would be arriving Saturday. Planning began at 9:30 a.m. Saturday.

Initially, the plane was scheduled to arrive at 1:10 p.m. Saturday, but arrived two hours later.

``It was originally supposed to go to Chicago, but it came here,'' Van de Vate said.

Vanderbilt physician Anderson Spicker went with medical crew to New Orleans to pick up the evacuees and patients. He said Saturday evening that they would have returned that night to pick up more people, but the lights at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport landing strip were not working.

``I want to emphasize how pleased we are, how we trusted this city to get resources together,'' Spicker said. ``We didn't even know what kind of patients we were going to have.''

Kelley Mure, Blount County Homeland Security Director, said the emergency assistance came through a mutual agreement between 16 counties in East Tennessee, including Knox and Blount counties.

``They had a plan in place, they activated it, and it worked,'' Mure said. ``The only glitch was it was `hurry up and wait.'''

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